To the Man Who Suggested My Friend Was 'Faking' Her Depression


As an inpatient, I met a woman who had been sent all over the country for treatment to provide relief for her severe depression. We became fast friends. Psych wards will do that. We meet each other at our lowest and most vulnerable points. Our month together passed, and we were discharged to our respective lives on the outside.

My last text to her went unanswered for days. When I got a response, it was a brief one telling me that she had been re-admitted. She had only been out for a couple of days when her doctor suggested that she “voluntarily” go back into the hospital. 

In our brief conversation, she spoke of how her ex-husband had hired a lawyer to keep her kids away from her. She is a terrific mom, but I’ve learned that such actions are commonplace, despite the fact that people with mental illness are more likely to be harmed than to cause harm.

Her ex told her that if she quit “faking it” and got her life in order, he would think about letting her see her kids. Sadly, the assumption that those of us with a mental illness are faking it is not unique. We’ve all heard it, and it certainly contributes to the chip most of us tend to carry squarely on our shoulders. 

In an effort to curb my own anger toward my friend’s ex-husband, I wrote him a letter he will never read. Unfortunately, as the words hit paper, I came to the realization it could be addressed to any number of folks we encounter in our own struggles.

Here’s what I would want him (and others like him) to know:

To the man who suggested my friend was faking it,

Does minimizing somebody else’s struggle bring you the gratification you seek?

Does dismissing somebody’s clinical diagnosis help you get through your day?

No good parent should have to fight just to see her kids, but she can’t fight you until she fights the much bigger battle against a much deadlier foe.

You can make the active choice to put a stop to the harm you’re doing to her. She, like many of us, doesn’t have the same luxury.

If control is what you think you have, don’t flatter yourself. The culprit in her life is something much tougher, much cleverer and much more legitimate than you — though equally as frightening.

Her fight against depression is a fight for her life.

When you say things like “depression isn’t an excuse,” you are minimizing the struggles of millions of us.

I wonder if you would tell somebody with a freshly broken leg they should just walk on it. Would you say something like “a compound fracture isn’t an excuse to use crutches”? Do you recognize what a strange juxtaposition that is — to be sympathetic toward a broken leg that will heal over time on its own, yet be completely inhumane toward a broken brain that has to be repaired with constant hard and unforgiving work?

While you have no control, it’s important that you understand your words do hurt. Like punching a bruise and compounding the hurt that’s already there.

That’s it, though. Don’t give yourself more credit than you deserve. Her condition is a biochemical one. Your opinion doesn’t make her more depressed, nor does it give her the strength to keep fighting.

Zero sum game. Pointless.

Your words are the equivalent of ripping off a scab. No new damage, just a little more bleeding and a few days longer to heal.

Your opinion is not unique, nor is your approach Earth-shattering. Most of us who have been diagnosed with a mental illness have been accused of faking it by loved ones and strangers alike. And in an effort to choose compassion over anger, I have to believe people act like you do to mask their own insecurities.

Many of us have learned to feel sorry for you rather than let your harsh words and actions contribute to our own plight.

But understand that while your words have no power over her, people like you do contribute to the deadly nature of mental illness.

The stigma that everybody talks about? It’s the fault of people like you.

One opinion like yours doesn’t matter, but many? Different story.

People like you are the reason people like me sometimes think it’s easier to take our own lives than to face the ridicule that sometimes comes with seeking help. Those of us who suffer from mental illnesses sometimes already struggle enormously with self-esteem problems and oversensitivity as symptoms.

Our default is to assume that even those who love us the most are going to leave us.

That default is reinforced by people like you.

You say we’re faking while we’re taking a regimen of medications with unpredictable and sometimes torturous side effects in an effort just to remain at baseline.

You tell us to get over it while we’re spending hours in therapy sobbing or angry or numb or lost just trying to figure out how to deal with our lot in life.

You tell us mental illness isn’t real while the woman you insulted sits in a hospital, isolated and hoping for some relief just so she can live.

For you, living might come easy. For many of us it does not.

If I had a choice between having a mental illness and having an easier life that afforded me the opportunity to be an insensitive jerk, I would choose the mental illness every time.

And I think she would, too.

She’ll no doubt get the treatment she needs and the medicine adjustment that will aid her recovery.

She’ll get better.  

You’ll still be a bully.

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Follow this journey on Dad; diagnosed

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